Artist Reflections: JENNA LEE

Byrdcliffe A.i.R. Presents
Works in Progress
Short Insights into the Creative Process

#3 Jenna Lee

Jenna Lee is an artist living and working in Brooklyn NY.  Her main body of work consists of 3-dimensional collages; beautiful and absurd little worlds unto themselves.  Jenna says: “I am interested in human impact on the environment, our relationship to and detachment from nature, and what this means for our future.  My work is symbolic and represents something greater about humanity, using a visual language that alludes to the primitive, the present, and the unknown that may lie ahead.”

1. Could you describe are your artistic process? Where do you find your collage materials?

When it comes to collage, which is what I have been focusing on for a while, the artistic process is pretty drawn out. I have a substantial collection of old, used books which I have been collecting for years.  These include books on anatomy to books on outer space, and every thing in between.  I tend to get good source materials from used book stores and the internet.  I spend a lot of time just flipping through the pages, and cutting out anything that catches my eye and I feel I could use some day. Sometimes I feel I would be better off not doing this because it ends up in my having more loose pieces than I could possibly keep track of, yet I still don’t stop. So I cut out all these images – sometimes it will be a big mountain, sometimes a microscopic bug, or leaves, whatever. If I’m not feeling more inspired than that, I keep cutting and storing these things in a big box. Then on the magical days when everything somehow comes together, I will have all my books around me and my trillion cut outs and just start putting things together. I’ll have a piece of a mountain, and want a larger landscape, so then I need to find another mountain that fits with what I have. I try to find something similar in size, that connects with what I have in multiple parts of the image. This is always the most fun part for me. It’s amazing how well two entirely unrelated images can fit together. It’s like solving an impossible puzzle.  I keep doing this, guided mostly by intuition I suppose, and the next thing I know there’s something to show for it facing me. It’s a nice feeling. I also need to work with the piece on a floor or a table, with a lot of re-arranging before the final glue down. I put everything together and take it apart a million times before I’m satisfied. Artist’s tape is my best friend.

2. Are you works driven more by chance and radomness, or by planning and specific intentions?

I would say both.  I have this perpetual fear that people will think my art is just surrealism, and though I love surrealism, I don’t want people to think it’s just that. I want every one of my pieces to have a story and a real meaning. This usually ends up being environmentally driven, because that is what I care about and find to be really important.  Each piece I make needs to have a meaning and a story, even if I’m the only person who understands it (but hopefully I’m not!)  That being said, I almost never have a very clear idea of what I am going to make before I start.  This makes things much more interesting and meaningful for me, personally.  Sometimes when I am working and putting images together, I end up with something aesthetically pleasing but then I stop and ask myself, “What does this really mean to you?” and if there isn’t a clear message that I feel I can stand behind, I take it apart and try again.  The “planning” really boils down to collecting and cutting out as much as I can, so everything flows more easily once I sit down to actually make something.

3. Did your work change at all in response to your residency at Byrdcliffe?

It definitely did, in a wonderful way I wish I could pursue back home in Brooklyn but it doesn’t really seem possible.  It’s funny, because the one piece I had a vague idea about when I arrived at Byrdcliffe was the one thing I didn’t complete while I was there.  I had planned to create some sort of apocalyptic scene, to go along with my last largest piece, The Grand Illusion.  Then I got to Byrdcliffe, and everything was so beautiful that it really changed what I wanted to make.  I ended up going on an incredible hike where some new friends from Byrdcliffe inspired me to use real nature in my pieces, which makes sense since I always resort to nature imagery regardless.  So I utilized my surroundings by collecting a lot of leaves, sticks, pinecones and other natural materials I found on the forest floor whilst exploring.  I ended up creating Found In the Forest (  There’s even a dead bee on the tree that I found perfectly intact on my studio floor one morning. I think this piece may come off as a bit gloomy to some people, but it’s not intended to be seen that way.  To me it really reflects my time at Byrdcliffe, in a positive, introspective way.  I did complete a solid center foundation for the apocalyptic piece, but it’s getting much brighter towards the edges than I had originally intended.  This is probably because of the beautiful, positive atmosphere I was in all month. But I’m not complaining!

To see more of Jenna Lee’s work, please visit To learn more about Byrdcliffe’s residency program, visit

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